Focused Faculty: David Strait's Jaws of Life

By Gina Muscato (November 26, 2007)

David Strait

David Strait (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

UAlbany anthropology professor David Strait admits to having skeletons in his closet. But it's not what you think, he says. It's all in the name of research.

Strait is a paleoanthropologist who studies the evolution and functional anatomy of humans and other primates. One of his current projects includes studying how the facial skeleton of humans and other primates withstand and adapt to the forces imposed by chewing.

For that study, Strait recently received a National Science Foundation grant for $940,000, which will be part of a collaborative project, "Integrative Analysis of Hominid Feeding Biomechanics," with nine other universities and colleges. Strait's research will focus on how the skull's shape has evolved in order to adapt to the forces associated with eating different types of food.

"These dietary adaptations are thought to have been critical factors influencing the course of early human evolution, so this research project will provide valuable insights into the diet and behavior of the earliest human ancestors," said Strait, who is the project director.

Color mapping on a computer-generated, early human skull.

Color mapping on this computer-generated, early human skull indicates levels of strain caused by bite and muscle forces. Bright red colors indicate areas of high strain caused by those forces, which are associated with chewing.

But, Strait's research interests extend beyond the human skull. His work has also included comparing wrist bones of early hominids with those of people, apes and some monkey species. His paleontological field work has brought him to the plateaus and river valleys of Zambia, where he preserves sediments and fossils at sites more than 300,000-years-old.

"It's a delightful place to work, and relatively few other researchers are working there, so I have a lot of flexibility regarding my research plans," said Strait, who teaches human evolution and anatomy and physiology courses at UAlbany.

Some of Strait's plans include engaging more students in his projects, which enables the anthropology professor to expand his teaching beyond the traditional classroom setting.

"I've had a number of students work on my biomechanics skull project with me, which has been great. It's enjoyable to see them learning complicated material and to watch their growing enthusiasm for the research," Strait said.


Related Link:
Department of Anthropology


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